The Gemara in Megilla 23a teaches the scriptural basis for the definition of a minyan. There is a gzera shavah, deriving a concept from the appearance of the same word in two different verses: And I shall be sanctified AMONG the children of Israel (Vayikra 22:32). Later, in the Korach story, we see the verse: Separate yourselves from AMONG this evil CONGREGATION (Bamidbar 16:21). The repetition of the word “among (Hebrew: ‘toch’)” is a signal that God’s name is “sanctified” (with repetition of the Amidah, kedushah, kaddish, Barchu, Torah reading with blessings, etc) in a “congregation.” The word “congregation (Hebrew: ’edah’)” appears again in this week’s parashah: How long will I have to bear this evil CONGREGATION that keeps complaining to me….(Bamidbar 14:27)” We know that a “congregation” is ten, because there were ten spies that came back from the land with a pessimistic report.

It is significant that a minyan is defined by Biblical examples of ten people who God punished for their lack of faith. In the case of the spies, the majority of them came back fearful and unwilling to believe that God would help them conquer the Canaanites, and the result was that they equivocated, then led people to their deaths in an unwinnable battle. In Korach’s case, his followers were convinced not to trust Moshe, and they were able to be swayed by a self-serving demagogue because of their fear and anger in the wake of the incident of the spies.

This is a clear reminder to the Jewish people against arrogance and Jewish supremacism. We are not superior to others. The ten required to say kaddish are not based on paragons of spirituality, but based on people who were fear-driven, as in the case of the spies, and easily swayed, as in the case of Korach.

This is also a reminder of what public prayer is supposed to accomplish. Prayer is the act of addressing the Ultimate, rather than hiding from our higher calling and purpose. It is a deeply personal activity, baring oneself before the foundation of existence. Additionally, prayer as halachic obligation is fulfilling, rather than hiding from, responsibility. Public prayer, or tefilah betzibur, sanctifies God’s name because ”groupthink” or “mob-psychology” does not naturally inspire our highest impulses, and so we do something revolutionary: we do that which is most personal, most transcendent, in public.

May our community always be one in which we can come together and reach higher. Let our shul always be a place that lives up to its name, “The Gates of Prayer.”

Shabbat Shalom!

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